Jazz: Very post-mod: very New York

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Indy Lifestyle Online
"SO YOU all come from round here?", John Lurie asks the audience at Salisbury Playhouse, in a transaction that could one day be used for an academic paper on "Problems of Communication in Socio-Linguistics". No one replies. "There's no need to be so blase," he continues. "I mean, you live next to Stonehenge, right?" Still no reply. "I live next to the World Trade Center," Lurie deadpans. "But we know how that was constructed." Well I laughed, anyway. Looking like a particularly degenerate bank manager in his baggy grey suit, Lurie demonstrated the differences in social manners between Wiltshire and the Lower East Side all too well. He also played the saxophone and led his nine-piece band, the Lounge Lizards, up what often seemed a long and very hard climb, until at last they reached the summit (as in the end of their set-list), and were even forced to come back and do an encore.

Once a latter-day beatnik film star, John Lurie has really been, he insists, a musician all along. Though this was the Lounge Lizards' first-ever British tour - and frankly, by the audience's bemused reaction, you can see why they've left it this late - the band are coming up to their 20th anniversary. But quiet, John wants to talk. "Can we please have the lights turned down a bit?" he says. "We're not healthy enough for that kind of lighting." The rather shocking red wash is lowered to a flickering filament, 40-watt glow. "Yeah, that's better," Lurie says. "You're only saying that because you're the only one who's lit," says Lurie's brother Evan, who plays piano in the band. As if it wasn't difficult enough anyway, Lurie now has to contend with sibling rivalry too.

When they play, the Lounge Lizards are stunningly effective, with a kind of Lower East Side take on Moroccan trance music, with Lurie squawking out circular breathing loops of unearthly alto sax against a hypnotic fixed-tempo pulse from the rhythm section. When the band all play together it's awesome, but the front line keep going off-stage at every chance they get. Maybe it's for a fag-break. If that isn't just another socio- linguistic problem.

Left on stage alone, Evan Lurie takes a solo that sounds exactly like the sort a film director might call for if he wanted to suggest that the protagonist had gone insane - lots of loopy plinkety-plonk, arpeggios and a more than normal use of the knuckles. You look around the stalls trying to spot the sponsors or Festival friends who've got free tickets and who therefore think they have to stay for the duration. "Go!" you want to say. "Go now, while you can still walk!"

Though the up-tempo trance numbers are excellent - the rhythm section taking on a repetitive groove that sounds like Nigerian juju music - the slower plinkety-plonk stuff is hard to bear, and the cellist (yep, there's a cellist) always wants to be louder, just like everyone else. But after suffering from low sugar levels in the middle of the long two-hour set, the band crank it up again for the final stages, which are very heavy on the trance, and they're great,

The problem with the Jazz Passengers featuring Debbie Harry is that for a long time there's no Debbie Harry. "Come on then!" you can feel the Salisbury crowd thinking: "Where is she?" As many of the audience are probably still traumatised from last night's Lounge Lizards gig, you have to have some sympathy. One number by the band seems fair enough, and two might just be acceptable. But when they start the third, you're ready to complain, as in "Get that ex-Blondie singer on stage immediately or I'm asking for my money back." A ruffle of velvet curtain from the wings and she's there at last, looking satisfyingly blonde-ish and singing a louche cabaret-style number with effervescent charm.

Wearing an odd pleated skirt that makes her look like a sweater girl from a Fifties movie, Harry makes a passable chanteuse, but the formula - a neat Po-Mo deconstruction of jazz-lounge music - becomes wearying after a while, especially after the Lounge Lizards, and you find yourself nostalgically musing on the old-fashioned virtues of a few decent tunes played with conviction.